Monday, March 23, 2009

Into Andalusia--Toledo and Grenada (March 22)

We began the day driving to Toledo, about an hour from Madrid.  Approaching the city, the terrain becomes much hillier, with wide vistas.  After the extremely crowded streets of Madrid, it felt good to enjoy the open space again.

Toledo enjoys a magnificent setting, high on a mountain, surrounded by its still-intact and formidable medieval walls and a fast-running river crossed by several ancient bridges.    We drove around the circumference of the city, taking in the view from above, then entered near its highest point and commenced our walking tour through the town.  Our local guide warned us repeatedly about staying with the group, emphasizing that getting lost in Toledo would be a very bad thing.  This hit home the moment we began to make our way down the streets, for they are both narrow and labyrinthine.  Toledo was clearly built long before automobiles.  Strolling down its streets, one realizes how much we give up by designing our cities around our cars.  In exchange for convenience, we lose a great deal of charm and quiet.

Enjoying our walk, we eventually arrived at the Cathedral of Toledo, the center point of the city.  Toledo is home to ten thousand citizens—and eighty churches—thereby generating the phrase, “Holy Toledo!”  The cathedral, the mother church, is a typical medieval gothic structure, with dark spires and arches.  We did not go in, as they were conducting their Sunday mass.

The other church we visited in town was St. Thomas, which is best known as the home of El Greco’s masterpiece, “The Burial of the Senor of Orgaz.”  Painted in 1588, it has the other-worldly, ghostly look of many El Greco works.  The guide was very helpful, pointing out a number of features in the painting that enabled me to appreciate it more than much of what I saw, unguided, in the Prado.  Apparently, this was one of the first paintings to capture transparency in a garment.  Impressive, though still not really my cup of tea.

Then we entered the Jewish Quarter, and one of the two synagogues in town, the Transito.  It was built in 1346, after Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi raised the funds for it.  His statue stands outside (not sure if he’d have approved of that or not!)  At any rate, it is a gorgeous building, done in the Moorish fashion.  In fact, apparently Muslims designed and built the place.  The walls are filled with Islamic geometric designs, and key-hole windows, while the ceiling is rich, dark wood lattice.   It was wonderful to stand in a synagogue in Spain.

And our local tour guide did a superb job explaining its history and that of the Jews and Muslims in al-Andalus, ancient Spain.  He told us that in 1992—the five hundredth anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews—King Juan Carlos of Spain invited the Israeli prime minister, Yitzchak Rabin to this synagogue.  There, in an elaborate ceremony, the king took a handwritten copy of the expulsion edict and tore it up, apologizing for that chapter of Spanish history and inviting the Jews to return.  Our guide then added: “This synagogue is waiting for a Jewish community to come back and claim it.  When they come, it will be theirs.”  What a lovely dream, and nice to know that there are moments of grace and progress in history.

We spent the rest of the day making the four hour drive to Grenada.  We passed through the district of La Mancha and stopped at a windmill.  You could just imagine Don Quixote jousting at it.  It looked exactly like the prints that hung on the walls of all of my friends’ houses in the 1970s, featuring the “Man of La Mancha.”  Apparently, Don Quixote is now the third-most translated book in history, following the Bible and the text which recently bumped it from second place—Harry Potter.  I could hear my father singing one of his favorite show tunes: “To dream the impossible dream. . .”

We enjoyed a lunch in the very quiet farm town of Puerto Latife, sitting in a beautiful sun-drenched courtyard with our sandwiches and cervesas (beer).   The locals chatted with us across the language barrier, asking about America with great curiosity.  What a pleasure it is to be able to travel proudly again, thanks to Barack Obama and the end of the Bush administration!  And how good it was to eat slowly, to re-set our clocks to the relaxed Mediterranean pace.  We miss so much as we move so fast.

We arrived in Grenada around dinner time, passing through the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains and hillsides lined with olive trees as far as the eye can see.  Apparently, the olives are all picked by Gypsies, who beat them out of the trees by hand, catching them in nets.  We get our share of olive oil here, as in all Mediterranean cuisine.

For the evening’s entertainment, we went to a Gypsy cave to watch flamenco dancers.  This entailed driving up the narrow streets of the town to a steep hillside neighborhood where the Gypsies settled after moving here from India long ago.  They brought the music and dance of flamenco with them. 

The show was wonderful.  Two family groups danced and played, with a short intermission/wine break in between.  Each had a guitar player, a singer, and the rest of the family, who took turns dancing and clapping their hands to complex rhythms.  Meanwhile, the dancer pounds her heels rapidly on the floor, reminiscent of clogging or tap dancing.  The dancers wear beautiful frilled skirts, which they swirl as they perform.  I loved watching the interplay between the dancers and the musicians and singers.  The music urges on the dancers, and the dancers push the musicians in a passionate mutual exchange.  It’s a fascinating mix, classically feminine and fierce at the same time.   

We ended the evening with a walk through the gypsy quarter, to a view of the Alhambra, brilliantly illuminated against the night sky.  Tomorrow, we will tour there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

8:30 AM-11:25 AM Hilton -- Alpine Ballroom West, Oral
New Energy Technology
Low Energy Nuclear Reactions: Introduction and Overview
Sponsored by: ENVR
Organizer, Presiding: Jan Marwan
8:30 AM 1 Introducing low energy nuclear reactions
Jan Marwan
8:55 AM 2 Low-energy nuclear reaction research: 2009 ACS update
Steven B. Krivit
9:20 AM 3 Condensed matter nuclear science discoveries
Scott R Chubb Sr., Talbot A. Chubb
9:45 AM 4 From cold fusion to condensed matter nuclear science: 20 years of research
Michael Charles Harold McKubre
10:10 AM 5 Twenty year history of LENR research using Pd/D codeposition
Frank E. Gordon, Stanislaw Szpak, P. A. Mosier-Boss, Melvin H. Miles, Lawrence Forsley
10:35 AM 6 From the proof of principle to a working prototype
Antonella De Ninno
11:00 AM 7 Practical use of nuclear quadrupole and internal magnetic field augmented LENR
Dennis Cravens, Rod Gimpel, Vince Golubic

New Energy Technology -- Next Session

Symposium Grid -- Division of Environmental Chemistry -- Session Listing

The 237th ACS National Meeting, Salt Lake City, UT, March 22-26, 2009

Vacations looks great, item for you to read, rabbi laura has friday covered, send my best to Utah in prayer.